TDOT orders county to close old bridge

Published 8:40 am Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A bridge in Roan Mountain will be closing soon amid concerns about its safety.
Located at the dead end of Old Railroad Grade Road and crossing the Doe River, the structural overhead steel bridge is 111 feet long and 9 feet wide. Once a bridge for the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, it was later converted to a motor vehicle bridge after the Tweetsie Railroad ceased to operate. Old Railroad Grade Road lies on what was once the path of the Tweetsie on its way between Elizabethton and Roan Mountain.
The order to close the bridge came from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Carter County Road Superintendent Roger Colbaugh said.
“TDOT, under the Federal Highway Administration, has a bridge inspection crew and every two years they inspect all the bridges,” Colbaugh said. “They inspect them whether they are county, city or state bridges, and right now they are inspecting all the bridges in Carter County.”
On Wednesday of last week, Colbaugh said he received a phone call from the bridge inspection crew asking him to come to the inspection site. Once there, he looked over the bridge with the inspectors and noted problems with the structure.
“There were wood timbers underneath the bridge slab that had decayed and some of the timbers have fallen into the river below,” Colbaugh said. “The concrete is crumbling in some places.”
“What makes it critical is the bridge deck itself; they are afraid it’s going to cave in,” he added. “There was one section that was so bad we put steel plates down.”
When Colbaugh arrived at work on Monday, he received an e-mail from TDOT informing him of the structural problems with the bridge, an order directing him to close it and a process he must follow to do so.
While there is no question the bridge will close, Colbaugh said closing it will create some additional problems. Because the bridge is at the dead end of the road closing it off will prevent some property owners from accessing their property.
“It will landlock them until we figure out an alternate route,” Colbaugh said. “There are, I believe, four homes out there, but nobody lives in them permanently.”
One of the properties does have a garage that is currently home to an auto repair shop, Colbaugh said, adding he spoke to that business owner who planned to relocate his business in order to keep it going.
“Right now we are contacting property owners and trying to come up with a temporary solution,” Colbaugh said. “So far they have been very courteous and very cooperative.”
Plans to provide temporary access to the area include building a temporary gravel road through neighboring properties that would bypass the need for a river crossing or the possibility of building a low-water river crossing using pipes and culverts.
“Either method is close to the river so we have to get the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation involved,” Colbaugh said, adding even a temporary solution could take some time to complete.
Because the order to close the bridge came with a deadline of 14 days, Colbaugh said no temporary solution would be in place before the bridge actually closes. “By Sept. 23 or 24 we will have to close it,” he said.
Once a temporary access plan is complete, Carter County will have to come up with a permanent plan to tackle the river crossing and access to those properties.
“The decision hasn’t been made whether or not to repair that bridge or to take it out and put in a new one,” Colbaugh said, adding the county could also consider constructing a permanent road to bypass the crossing.
All of the possible permanent solutions would require engineering work and structural plans as well as coordination with TDEC because of the proximity to the river, Colbaugh said. A “ballpark estimate” for repairing the bridge could run the county as much as $400,000-500,000, he added.
“We will seek state assistance to try to help fund the project,” Colbaugh said. “I’m hoping to get some funding on it since it is critical and we are having to close it.”

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